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History of Corley services

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Corley exit under construction.jpg
The service area under construction in 1971, with the exit closed off.

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Opened by Trusthouse Forte 1972
Re-branded Motor Chef 1974
Re-branded Welcome Break 1988

When the services went to tender, Granada were forbidden to bid for it, as they already ran Frankley which technically was an adjoining service area. Granada protested this was pedantic and were eventually allowed to bid.

In the event, the best bids came from Esso and Fortes. Fortes were proposing a full restaurant whereas Esso just wanted to provide automated catering, and with Esso having not proven themselves at the time, Fortes won the contract.

Corley opened on 17 January 1972, almost a year after the M6. 300 jobs were created.


See also: M6 Service Area Planning

The site for the services was originally going to be to the west at Chapel Green, but this required too many earthworks, so Corley was found instead.

When it was being designed, Corley and Trumps Green were thought to be the only commercially attractive services, with 30 more proposed services effectively being a waste of money. Corley was planned to be very large, mainly to allow for landscaping that was only recently being considered important, and it required local roads to be diverted around it. A previous plan used much less land, sticking much closer to the motorway.

At the time it was built, most operators had decided it was best to design buildings that took customers' minds away from the motorway. On the other hand Fortes still believed that being visible from the motorway would attract custom, and if a dodgy footbridge hadn't already been supplied by the Department for Transport when preparing the site, they would have built a replica of Keele here.

Instead they designed a bright, honey-coloured building and added a lot of cladding to the footbridge. Large windows kept the dining areas light.

Corley was thought to be the largest service area in Europe when it opened, albeit with a tiny entrance foyer causing crowding on each side.


Corley motorway service area.
The amenity building designed to look attractive to passers-by.

Five years after it opened, Fortes were criticised for setting up takeaway catering units in the car park while refusing to extend the small toilets. Naturally, they were only interested in the profitable areas, and at a time when most of the industry was struggling Corley was making Fortes a significant profit. They tried to take advantage of this with unauthorised facilities such as a bouncy castle and a crazy golf course.

In the 1970s the service area had a poor relationship with its staff union. It was closed for a two hour strike on 15 October 1972, and for a day-long strike on 24 June 1974. Female employees experienced further tension with the union in 1977. Meanwhile in 1975 80 members of staff were made redundant as fears of subsidence from the coal seams below caused the north-westbound building to be temporarily closed. Fortes had tried to force the National Coal Board to stop mining nearby. Secretly, Fortes were delighted at the savings the closure had allowed them to make.

In 1977 Egon Ronay rated the south-eastbound services as "poor", although accepting it was clean and cheerful, even if the toilets did smell. He compared the bridge to a very long train carriage. A 1978 government review described the services as "scruffy and prison-like".

In the 1990s improvements to the services were halted due to plans to widen the M6, which could have seen it demolished.


Corley motorway services.
Inside the foyer in 1983.

Originally the services carried Fortes's usual fine-dining experience. The motorway network's first Julie's Pantry was added in 1979, and by the mid-1980s Little Chef and The Granary had joined it to totally replace the dining offer. There was a Little Chef and Julie's on each side, which all closed in phases between 1995 and 1998.

There was also a Thorntons shop in the early 1990s.

On 12 May 2006 a Starbucks facility along with Coffee Primo was added to the westbound side. It was the first Starbucks to be built on the motorway network. The services had been the first to get a Coffee Primo several years before.

The hotel opened on 1 June 2008, although one had been planned here for many years - as early as 1972. At one time a Little Chef Lodge was planned.

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